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MBB Preview: Can Vanderbilt Turn Their Season Around Against LSU?

Vanderbilt needs a win on Saturday to snap a four-game losing streak against SEC competition. Will they be able to upset an LSU team that has two beasts in their frontcourt?

Josh Gray reacts to having his hair pulled in a vicious game of four square at the O-Dome.
Josh Gray reacts to having his hair pulled in a vicious game of four square at the O-Dome.
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Can the Commodores find their stroke in time to prevent a midseason tailspin from turning into a death spiral?

Vanderbilt has lost four straight games to teams ranging from excellent (Kentucky) to subpar (Mississippi State) and now sit at 11-7. A 1-0 start to league play has now developed into a spot in the SEC's basement. Their RPI has fallen by ~20 spots as a result - but a big win on Saturday could change all that.

LSU won't make a turnaround easy. The Tigers are coming off of a decisive 79-61 win over Florida in the O-Dome - an impressive feat even during the middle of a Gator rebuild. They'll also have a sea of big men waiting for Damian Jones, James Siakam, and Luke Kornet in the frontcourt. LSU has seven players listed at 6'8" or taller, including constant double-double threats Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey.

LSU will bring plenty of All-SEC caliber talent to Memorial Gym, but they'll have to overcome Vandy's young depth to leave with a win. Will the Commodores avoid a fifth straight loss? Let's take a closer look.

The Opponent: Louisiana State University (14-4, 3-2 SEC)

KenPom Rankings: LSU is 41st. Vanderbilt is 60th.

Key Stat: 32.7. The Tigers have four players averaging 32.7 minutes or more per game in 2014-15. Their rotation effectively goes seven deep and only six players have notched more than eight minutes per contest this season. Comparatively, the Commodores have eight players who are averaging 18 minutes or more. Vanderbilt will have the fresher team on Saturday when the clock winds down in the second half - but they'll also have the less experienced team. Will they be able to use those fresh legs to fend off LSU's balanced scoring attack? Or will they fall short in the clutch?

Matchup to Watch: Jordan Mickey vs. Damian Jones. Two emerging big men meet in the paint for the second time on Saturday. Mickey and Jones are both athletic sophomores who squared off on the Texas AAU circuit before coming to the SEC. They played to a virtual standstill as freshmen; Jones scored 16 points and pulled down five rebounds while Mickey put up a 13 and six. Each player shot 50 percent from the field. Of course, that deadlock only applied to these two players - LSU beat the dog crap out of Vandy by 23 points last year.

Mickey is a hybrid forward with springs for legs while Jones is developing into a post presence who can rock an up-and-under or baby hook like Festus Ezeli did before him. They probably won't see too many one-on-one situations between them, but each player is a dynamic help defender who can swat errant layups into the crowd from out of nowhere. It's not a perfect comparison between two players with different games, but Jones and Mickey will provide for a compelling matchup each time the sophomores share the paint.

Starters and Rotation Players:

Pos. Player PPG RPG APG
G - Shelton Mitchell 5.1 2.6 4.2
G - Riley LaChance 13.4 3.2 2.4
F - Jeff Roberson 4.3 3.2 0.9
F - James Siakam 9.0 5.4 0.6
C - Damian Jones 15.7 7.2 1.0
Key Reserves
G - Wade Baldwin IV 6.7 3.8 4.3
G/F - Matthew Fisher-Davis 6.5 2.1 0.9
F - Luke Kornet 8.1 4.0 0.7
Pos. Player PPG RPG APG
G - Josh Gray 9.6 2.7 4.9
G - Keith Hornsby 12.5 4.6 2.3
F - Jarell Martin 16.9 8.8 1.9
F - Jordan Mickey 15.5 10.6 1.8
C - Darcy Malone 1.3 1.0 0.3
Key Reserves
G - Tim Quarterman 12.1 5.6 3.5
G - Jalyn Patterson 5.2 1.8 1.7
F - Brian Bridgewater 2.6 1.0 0.3